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With her husband floating aboard the USS Kitty Hawk off the coast of Iraq last month, a pregnant Sarah Crowder braced herself for a delivery without him.

She and her husband, Lt. Cmdr. Josh Crowder — a helicopter pilot with Anti-Submarine Squadron 14 — had been through some of the usual expectant parent rituals, including learning how to breathe together during delivery.

But nearly two-thirds into her pregnancy, Josh shipped out for Operation Iraqi Freedom, leaving Sarah in the capable hands of her visiting mother and a crew of fellow Navy wives at Atsugi Naval Air Facility.

When the initial pangs of labor began, she headed to the hospital — after first calling the wife of her husband’s commander to try to get a message to the ship. Across the Asian continent, that came in loud and clear.

Josh rushed to call his wife.

During heavy combat operations and a flurry of fighter jet flights, he tried. And tried. And tried again.

He finally reached her on the fourth call. By then, the labor had been going on half a day.

Josh coached his wife though the breathing and delivery for 40 minutes. And he was on the phone to hear his new daughter’s first cries.

“We went through the breathing process,” Sarah recalls, a beautiful infant purring in her arms. “He was on the phone with me when I had her.

“It was as good as it could be without him there.”

The days until Josh comes home are quickly becoming hours. Both can barely wait until the reunion, though, Sarah says, he’ll likely have more of a homecoming than he’s expecting.

“I just want the day to get here,” she said, adding, “he’s going to have a lot to learn.”

Experts already preparing new dads

ABOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK — Instead of waiting for the sailors to come to them, the experts came to the sailors.

For the first time on the Kitty Hawk, Navy counselors and child-care experts flew out to the ship to offer classes on adjusting to post-deployment life, being a new parent, and resuming relationships from months ago.

This week, as the ship approaches an expected return home May 6, a team from Yokosuka’s Fleet and Family Support Center was brought on board.

“This is the first time we’ve done it, and we certainly hope that it’s something that can be built upon,” said Cathy Adams-Bomar, support center director.

“Even though the Kitty Hawk hasn’t been gone as long as some other ships, this deployment has the potential to be just as disruptive to lives and families. Maybe even more so for the Kitty Hawk, since they’re always coming in and going out with little notice.”

While on board, the teams met with sailors and taped classroom versions of their presentations to be used on future cruises.

One class was the Boot Camp for New Dads, a program that started last fall at Yokosuka. While underway, several Kitty Hawk crewmen became new fathers; the class is designed to help them with everything from holding and feeding a baby to changing diapers.

“A lot of the focus is on whether the father is feeling anxious or excited,” said Lt. j.g. Jerry Mahlau-Heinert, who teaches the class in Yokosuka and who brought the program to the Kitty Hawk.

“For these sailors, it’s not just re-establishing a relationship, it’s also dealing with another member of the family that wasn’t there when you left.”

Support center officials also stressed that the focus on returning sailors should not stop a week or two after their return; some problems will manifest as the weeks drag on.

“We’ve told the sailors that they have ‘head of the line’ privileges once we get back home,” Adams-Bomar said. “Our doors are always open.”— Joseph Giordono

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